Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fresh Summer Pesto

In my last post, I bragged on my in-laws' stellar skills in the kitchen.  Now, it's time to brag on their gardening abilities.  They have the most beautiful garden behind their home filled every type of flower that will grow in the Pacific Northwest imaginable.  They even grew the flowers for our wedding last year.  The arrangements, which were done by my lovely mother, speak for themselves.
Not only do they grow beautiful flowers, they also have grow fresh, organic berries, fruit, and vegetables.  And they are always willing to share!  So when I went over to make granola in a kitchen that actually functions, I got to pick fresh vegetables.  One of the things I was most excited for was the basil.  I love basil!  The smell, the taste, everything about it represents fresh summer recipes.  With their basil producing in mass quantities, there was plenty to pick.

 (On a side note, I learned that it is best to pick basil right before it starts to flower for the best taste.  If it starts to flower, the basil starts to taste bitter.  The only gardening tip I am capable of giving.  Thanks, Karyn!)

I decided to take advantage of having a functioning kitchen at my disposal and make pesto.  I love having fresh pesto around; it goes with anything from pasta, to vegetables, or it can even be used as a dip.  And, with a limited kitchen right now, I enjoy having things around that are easy to cook with.  To make a traditional pesto, you need:
  • Fresh basil, at least 5 cups worth (make sure it is fresh as basil starts to turn black soon after it is cut)
  • 1 cup of oil (I prefer to use olive oil but vegetable or canola oils work fine)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of nuts (pine nuts are traditionally used but other nuts work, too, which I'll discuss later)

Start by pouring about 1 cup of the oil in a food processor or blender.  You might want to set aside a little oil in case the basil leaves have trouble catching the blades.  After you pour the oil, peel and chop the garlic clove in to small pieces and then place them in the oil.  Then, take the basil leaves and cut them off the stems and in to pieces.  It is better to use scissors than your hands to chop the basil to avoid staining your hands black.  Once the basil is in the blender, add the salt.  Then you can cover and set your blender to "liquify" to combine all of the ingredients.

Once the oil, garlic, salt, and basil leaves are combined in to a liquid mixture, you can add your nuts.  I blended the basil mixture without the nuts first so I could make two different batches.  Now, traditional pestos call for pine nuts.  But pine nuts are really expensive, anywhere from $31 to $45 per pound, and, depending on whether or not there has been a good harvest, they can be hard to find.  I have discovered, though, that many different types of nut can be substituted for the pine nuts with wonderful results.  Walnuts are probably the most common substitute for pine nuts but, in talking with my mother-in-law, cashews and even macadamia nuts can be substituted as they both have a similar sweet taste and meaty texture.  

I split the recipe my basil mixture in half to make two batches, one with pine nuts and one with walnuts.   In the first batch, I used about 1/2 cup of pine nuts.  You could probably get away with using up to 1 cup if you really love pine nuts but I think the taste is too overwhelming.  Place the pine nuts in half the basil mixture in the blender and set to liquify.  You may need to stir a couple of time to make sure all of the nuts are blended.  Once everything is blended, place in a jar and refrigerate.

For the second batch, I used about 1 cup walnuts as I think walnuts have a milder flavor.  But before I added the walnuts to the basil mixture, I toast the walnuts in a frying pan over low-heat for about five minutes.  Once the walnuts are toasted, add them to the second half of the basil mixture in the blender and set to liquify.  The walnuts take longer to blend, so stir a few times in between blending.  Once all of the nuts are blended, put the pesto in a jar or tupperware container and refrigerate.

Once you get the combination of nuts that you like, you can play with adding other ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, or, my favorite, parmesan.  You will have a delicious pesto that will go with any summer dish.  Preferably, gluten-free. :)

Favorite summer recipes?  Feel free to share in the comments section!

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